Stars: Emily Beecham, Ben Whishaw, Kit Connor, Lindsay Duncan
Austrian writer-director Hausner’s oblique and elusive if stylish English language debut uses sci-fi tropes to explore themes of alienation, familial estrangement, and medicated happiness. Beecham is Alice, a single mother and senior plant breeder at a corporation which is developing new species. While she works on a pet project - a strikingly vivid scarlet flower, which seems to exert a calming influence on those who encounter it - she is clumsily wooed by shy awkward colleague Chris (Whishaw). Breaking strict work rules she takes her plant home where she lives with her teenage son Joe (Connor) and christens it Little Joe. But while the flower inspires feelings of content it also has a flattening-out effect on those who come into contact with it, rendering them blandly agreeable, but insouciant and only really concerned with Little Joe’s wellbeing. The prowling camerawork and blank low-key performances imbue proceedings with a sense of unease, while the production design, with the lab looking like a cross between a new age wellness clinic and the set of an early 80s science TV show, is striking. The deliberately rigid formal structure and mannered dialogue, however, render this a challenging watch.